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FIRST PASSAGE

20 August, 1998

Departed Monhegan Island 1200 hours EDT.
Wind is light, southwest, and we are reaching along under cruising spinnaker and all plain sail. A delightful day, not a cloud in the sky. Course is 140 magnetic, our first waypoint is the cut between Brown's Bank and George's Bank, 185 nautical miles distant. Thanks to all the McDonough family of Monhegan for their generous hospitality and great food. (Thanks for the cookies, Judy)

MR

Captain's Log, 22 August

Position 42 degrees, 07 minutes north latitude
65 degrees, 16 minutes west longitude

We are now off the continental shelf, depth of water about 8000 feet. We spoke with a fishing vessel from Nova Scotia this morning, the Derrick and Stephane, who offered us a "little piece" of freshly caught swordfish. We offered some beer in return, and got about 30 pounds of fish, most of which we've crammed into the icebox. We also baked some up on the spot, and it was stupendous. So it's swordfish for breakfast lunch and dinner for the next 2 weeks, or however long we can keep it. We've cranked the little reefer unit as low as the thermostat will go in hopes of stretching it out.

By now we're pretty well adapted to the schedule, which is 4 hours on watch, and 8 hours off, with Joel and I taking turns backing Shifra up until she feels OK about standing watch alone at night. She does 8-12, Mike does 12-4, and Joel takes 4-8, the graveyard watch. He likes to watch the sun come up. No one has been seasick yet, and we are pretty well done being cautious about spending too much time below decks.

Weather has been very cooperative, now sunny with a gentle 12-knot breeze directly behind us. We could use more of it, having motored about 10 of the last 48 hours. But no one is whistling yet.

Saw a large sunfish lolling on the surface yesterday, about 6 feet in diameter. Strange creature. The usual small whales and occasional dolphins, but not as many as we expected on the banks.

Thanks for the e-mail messages. We do mail call around noon each day and greatly enjoy hearing from home. Keep those beeps and squawks coming!

MR

 

Captain's log, 8/25

Position: 40 degrees 15 minutes north, 59 degrees 24 minutes west
Heading: 130 degrees (southeast)

We have now entered the Gulf Stream, which should boost us by up to a knot over the next few days. Fortunately, the wind and current are both southwest, which avoids the unpleasant condition of wind against current. That is the situation which causes the nasty, vertical seas the Gulf Stream is famous for. We will soon be turning eastward to follow the 40th parallel for most of the passage to the Azores. Yesterday was a rocky, wet one with winds to 30 knots, and a contrary current due to a back eddy off the north wall of the gulf stream. We are back to moderately reefed sails now, in a brisk but pleasant SW wind at 20 knots.

Shifra is on watch now, and keeping an eye on Fleming, the wind vane that does most of our steering for us. He's a wonder, but takes more tending than Otto, our electric autopilot which we only use when under power because of the current consumption. Wind-powered steering is also more elegant in other ways, being quiet and more in harmony with the ethos of working with the wind.

It looks like we have dodged Hurricane Bonnie. Even if it turns northward at this point, we will be far to the east. For once, we can say that a hurricane blew safely ashore. Sorry, Miami, nothing personal.

MR

 

Captain's log, Local noon, 27 august

Position: 40 North, 53 deg. 33 min West
Now 800 miles out from Monhegan, about 1000 to go to Flores,
easternmost of the Azores.

Presently running due east along the 40th parallel under cruising spinnaker and mainsail, with wind from the SW and the Gulf Stream in our favor. Speed through the water 5.5 knots; over the bottom, a blistering 6.5. The Concorde it's not.

Bonnie is pretty well out of our picture, and hopefully Maine's as well. However we have had some busy weather, with a parade of lows to the north, squalls and frequent wind shifts over the past 2 days. That translates into lots of sail changes and lots of "all
hands on deck" in the middle of the night. Through all that, we've managed to keep moving in the right direction, and are happy with our progress. It has been appallingly hot and humid, which makes sense, since we are traveling on 85 degree water that came from the Caribbean in July.

The swordfish is holding out; no crawly things yet. It is difficult to know, given our baseline, if mercury poisoning has set in yet.

MR

 

Captain's log 29 AUGUST, Local noon


Position: 40d 23m North, 49d 21m West; 1050 miles down, 830 miles to Flores, as
the cow flies.

Bit of a respite today. Yesterday was a Twilight Zone kind of day. We stopped counting squalls after about #20, beginning around midnight. No "white squalls", whatever those are, but lots of gray ones, a couple of pink ones around sunset, and some really black ones during the night. Some just had a little wind, some a little rain, some lots of both. Our beloved cruising spinnaker tore in a sudden squall to 30 knots. A small tear, fixable in the Azores, but that's out of the repertoire for the moment. We also spent the day caught in another back eddy off the gulf stream, and had to get way north to get out of it, which we are now. We really miss having the Gulf Stream fax maps from NOAA, which are no longer broadcast, so we are just guessing at the location of the stream based on historical data, water temperature, and which direction we seem to be getting pushed at the moment. Fortunately, we have now pushed east of the Grand Banks, at which the Stream begins to widen, diffuse and hopefully quit boxing us about the ears. We almost hove to for a rest last night, we were all so tired, but the prospect of the remnants of Major Depression Bonnie nipping at our heels kept us doggies moving right along.

Swordfish day 7; headaches, manic behavior, slurred speech. Do we dare try another dose? Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of "Toxicology at Sea"..........

MR

Captain's Log, 1 September, 1300 utc

Position: 40d 28m north, 42d 54m west
Heading due east, 6 knots. Wind SW at 20 knots.

Update on Extraterrestrial storm Bonnie;

We have now almost fully recovered from the effects of this most unusual storm which is just now finally breaking up over the Azores. We were somewhat surprised when she turned away from Miami last week and headed ashore in the Carolinas; we were very surprised when she headed back out to sea, contrary to polite hurricane behavior. We were a little concerned about our friends when she turned toward New England, still at the very stately pace of 200 miles or so per day. We continued to feel pretty smug about our own position, 1000 miles to the east, in a zone which has seen only 1 low pressure system of this kind in august in the past 25 years. Needless to say, we were astounded to learn on Sunday afternoon that she had not only turned our way, but had covered 800 miles in 24 hours and was still packing a wallop: 50 knot winds predicted for our area. This had not been on our agenda for the evening. As it turned out, it was not a direct hit. The storm passed 200 miles to the north of us, but with a 900-mile diameter, the difference was academic.

So we battened down the hatches (literally), removed all extraneous canvas, lashed everything down, and went through our pre-storm checklist, at which point we discovered a seriously frayed steering cable, which would not be reliable under the kind of loads we expected. This required setting up our emergency tiller for steering, which is fine in a pinch, but not the easiest way to handle a 40 foot boat in a storm. We had a choice of 2 tactics: the passive one would have been to put out a storm anchor, an 18-foot diameter nylon parachute which is designed to hold the boat head-to-wind. Its main advantage is that the crew can get out of the weather and rest somewhat. The active approach would be to sail with the wind under storm jib, then bare masts only above 40 knots or so. This seemed preferable to us, since it would keep us moving toward our destination and Joel and I had successfully done it on the trip to Ireland in similar winds for several days, albeit with a steering wheel. It should be easier here, with much warmer water and a shorter exposure time.

We decided on the active tactic, and it worked, although there were times during the night as the wind built to 60 knots and beyond, that I cursed me'self for a worthless lubber. It was quite the scene, in retrospect; wind shrieking, 25-30 foot waves exploding into foam and spindrift at the crests. At times, all 3 of us were steering, one hauling on the tiller and looking aft to be sure we were dead perpendicular to the next wave, the second adding oomph where needed, and the third hauling on the wheel on the side with the good cable when the boat threatened to broach, (turn sideways) on the face of a wave. We knew that the previous owner had managed this trick in a 60-knot storm in the Bay of Biscay in 1969 on Tammy Norie's maiden voyage, which gave us additional confidence, and once into it, in the middle of the night, it would have been pretty tough to change tactics and try to rig a storm anchor. Fortunately, we got away with it, in large part due to Surfin' Tammy Norie and her uncanny ability to swim through just about anything, god bless her.

No doubt it was all very cinematic, but not much fun, and needless to say, no one slept a wink. The fortunate part about the rapid eastward movement of the storm was that it moved off quickly. By daybreak the wind was down to 40 knots and 1 person could steer, although the motion was horrible for about 24 hours due to seas coming from various directions. This was Shifra's first real storm at sea, and she hung in there very bravely, despite getting pretty motion sick toward morning. Joel, being the strongest, bore the brunt of hauling on the tiller, and was equally brave and tireless. No one was injured, just sore arms and backs. Some of our electronics, including the electric autopilot, were out of commission for a while, due to the amount of salt water which came aboard, but all of the essentials are back on line now after some judicious cleaning with fresh water and weasel piss. I'm waiting for a calm to get under the cockpit and replace the steering cable: for now we are fine with the combination of tiller and electric ram. We are catching up on sleep now, praising Neptune and whoever else will listen for our deliverance, and slowly scraping the layers of salt off ourselves. Most amazingly, we turned in a nice 24-hour run of 110 miles in the right direction, and are that much closer to a snug harbor and a hot shower. At which point, we will all begin to endlessly embroider the tale. This may be the last truthful version anyone will hear.

Lunatic irony is at times helpful in such situations, and I kept humming this old British broadside during the night; I've written down what I can remember:

One night there came a hurricane, the seas were mountains rolling,/
When Barney Buntline turns his quid, and says to Billy Bowline,/
"A fine norwester's blowin' Bill, Hark can't you hear it roar now./
God help em, how I pity all unhappy folks ashore now.

Foolhardy chaps who live in towns, what dangers they are all in/
Right now they're quakin in their beds for fear the roof may fall in./
Poor creatures how they envy us, and wish as I've a notion/
For our good luck in such a storm to be out on the ocean

And as for those who're out all day on business from their houses/
And late at night are coming home to cheer the babes and spouses/
While you and I, Bill, on the deck are comfortably lying/
My eyes, what bowls and chimney pots around their necks are flying.

And very often have we heard how men are killed and undone/
By overturns of carriages, by thieves and fire in London/
We know what risks all landsmen take, from noblemen to tailors/
Then Bill, let us thank Providence that you and I are sailors."

A warm bed and dry underwear to you all, and god bless you.

MR

Captain's Log, 6 September 1998


Position: 39d 37m North, 32d 29m West. Flores 62 miles, bearing 93
degrees true.
Wind SW at 15 knots, we are holding our speed to 4 knots to make an
early morning landfall.

Last entry was several days ago, and it is difficult to know where to start this one. For certain, we will not book with this cruise line again: the steady diet of humble pie is becoming monotonous. After Bonnie passed, we had 3 nice days in which to regroup. We cleaned up the terminals on the electric ram, which got that autopilot back in action. That bought us time until the wild, random post-storm seas subsided enough to allow us to work, at which point we hove to and replaced the frayed steering cable.

By that time we were getting very frequent radio weather bulletins from the NWS and a daily set of fax maps to track Danielle's progress. She, too, had originally been predicted to track much further north, but each update put her track closer to us. Our basic game plan was to turn more southward now, rather than follow the 40th parallel along to just before the Azores. We also drove the boat harder than usual to widen the distance as much as we could. That produced a casualty, in the form of a broken upper spreader on the mainmast, caused by winching up the mainsail at night, not seeing that the halyard was wrapped against the spreader. We normally do not do that maneuver in the dark if we can avoid it. This was my goof, so at the same time we hove to to fix the steering cable, I went up the mast to clear the pieces of spreader. At 40 feet up the mast, backing off screws between 10' arcs, and periodically whacking up against the mast, out of the depths of the dumb song and jingle neocortex, came "There's one thing can revive a guy, and that is a piece of rhubarb pie/ Serve it up, nice and hot, maybe things aren't as bad as you thought./ Momma loves rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, Be-bop-a-re-bop rhubarb pie." When Garrison Keillor sings it, everyone laughs, and the show goes merrily on. Didn't work for me, somehow: I still had to get those damn screws out, and eventually did. Then on we ran, lickety split, looking over our shoulders.

This time, Danielle's path put her about 300-350 miles north of us, and winds of up to 45 knots were predicted. We’d heard that before, and figured we'd better assume worse. As Tristan Jones said, there are 4 kinds of sailors: dead, retired, novices and pessimists. Even though our steering system, and the boat in general were perfectly up to actively running with a gale, as we did the other night, we felt it more prudent to ride it out under storm anchor, which would be easier on us and the boat.

Once the barometer had clearly begun its dive, and the wind hit 30 knots and climbing, we deployed the 18' nylon parachute and 550 feet of chain and 3/4" nylon rope. The parachute is a heavy ballistic nylon, designed for just this purpose. If you jumped out of a plane with it, it would hit you on the top of the head. It took about 2 hours to set, and another several hours of fiddling until we had things just right. While a "passive" tactic, it actually took a lot more work to set up than simply dropping sails and running, as we did before. However, it is a much more controlled situation, and it was miraculous to be at a dead stop, watching the bow cleanly part these huge breaking crests, while we sat dry in the cockpit eating bonbons. It did feel unnatural somehow, and the tradeoff was that the motion was quite horrible: pitching, yawing, rolling, corkscrewing in every combination, especially later in the storm as the wind swung from southwest to northwest, and we got waves from different directions. The wind did indeed get into the mid to high 40's around midnight, and by daybreak was dropping below 30 at times. We spent about 2 hours hauling in all the gear, and were back under way by noon. Aside from some scrapes and bruises, the only casualty was a chewed up rail forward where the anchor chain jumped out of its roller. We will rig a pin there for next time (if there is a next time), along with a few other improvements, but overall the system worked as advertised, and we spent a somewhat better night than before. On a comfort scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being Eating Cherry Garcia ice cream by the pool, and 0 being public evisceration and beheading at the Tower of London, I would put this one around a 3. What we did the other night was perhaps a 1. Night shift in the ER would be up around 5 perhaps.

The weather has steadily moderated since then, and we are caught up on our sleep. Now we are cleaning up and preparing for landfall tomorrow, at which point the "is it worth it?" meter will go more positive. We are still looking over our shoulders at Earl, but at this point it looks clear.

Now, of course, we know why the hurricane tracks go up to Newfoundland and trail off, and we really did get past the true hurricane track on about day 4. However, there is still
the matter of these ex-hurricanes, embittered by their failure to wreak devastation in Florida, and looking for one last chance before they are completely spent. God forbid we should ever encounter an actual hurricane in its prime.

MR

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